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Reversing course, School Board mandates masks

Reversing a decision it made last week, the Henderson County School Board voted Monday to require masks for students and staff when school starts later this month.

The board's action came after parents organized to oppose the mask-optional rule the School Board adopted a week ago. People who joined an organization of parents, teachers, nurses and others that gained more than 600 members on Facebook in three days urged the Henderson County School Board to reverse the decision it made last week to make masks optional for students, teachers and other school staff in the public schools.

Called Henderson County NC Families & Staff for Safer Classrooms, the group will counter the message that dominated public comment last week, when parents implored the School Board to leave the face covering decisions to families.

“We’ve got a wide variety of people that are very active — everyone from parents, to local health care providers, physicians, nurses, teachers, other school staff,” Anna Hoy, the mother of a first grader at Bruce Drysdale Elementary School and an organizer of the group, said. “We’re all very concerned about this. I think we were all a bit surprised at the conversation last week and how it went at the School Board meeting. The School Board has really been following CDC guidance, all the official guidance, and last week was quite a departure from that. So we have organized for today.”

"It sounds like the board that we've had the entire pandemic and that's why last week's meeting was such a surprise because it really seemed off course from the board that we knew," Hoy said in an interview after the meeting. "I think many families are very pleased that in-person instruction will continue and additional safety measures will continue to be used because they have been effective. I think the group (on the School Board) saw how serious the level of concern was now that there had been that change last week and I think coming out together as a united front was really important."

On Monday morning more than 10 people had signed up to speak during the public comment time, including a nurse, a parent and a mental health professional, she said. Among those who have posted comments on the Facebook page is a physician supporting mandatory masks.

“There will be a group of parents and families and staff who don’t necessarily feel safe going inside to sit during the meeting, just because of the number of unmasked people,” Hoy said. “So there will be a group gathered on the front lawn just to livestream on their own phones, just to show public support” for reversing the optional mask decision.

The School Board’s decision came amid widespread coverage of a Covid-19 resurgence because of the highly contagious Delta variant and at a time when children under 12 are not yet approved to be vaccinated.

“Delta is on the rise and evidence keeps emerging every day about the severity of it, not just for adults, but also the infection rates for children,” said Hoy, who owns a child-birth education service. “Because a large part of our school population is ineligible for vaccines, masks, distancing, hand washing and good sanitation, good ventilation at our schools are basically what we have to work with. Really, taking away the mask component, making it optional, is very concerning for many, just knowing how quickly a situation can turn from one case to a whole case quarantining. The Delta variant most certainly is at the top of everyone’s mind, and the local news that keeps coming out day by day. The reconsideration is especially that.”